Last Weekend at ECCC '09

Okay, that was harder this year than it has been in a while.

A lot of our exhaustion was probably because we were coming right off the move... but still, it felt quite a bit rougher to wrestle this year's Emerald City Con field trip into happening than it has been for a couple of years.

For one thing, we were kneecapped by the fact that the con took place on the final weekend of the Seattle school district's spring vacation, which put a lot of the kids out of town for those two days. (Plus we had the dreaded van problem again, but I won't bore you with all that.)

Still, we did okay with attendance, and in fact two of my kids made it a point to get their folks to come back from vacation a day early so they could at least put in a Sunday afternoon shift at the table, which was gratifying.

Once again this year we brought in cartooning grads Aja and Rachel as our helper monkeys.

You may recall Rachel from the X-Men columns a few weeks back. As you can see, she is still a big ol' X-geek: that's her costumed as Rogue. "Rogue from the movies," she was quick to point out, since there were quite a few Rogues running around.

The thing that really started to make us laugh after a while, though, was how many Jokers we saw. It's this year's Jack Sparrow for the cosplay folks.

The Dark Knight film version was far and away the one everyone went for.

Even the little kids, which was vaguely disturbing.

Although once in a while you'd see one going old-school.

(I overheard someone calling this one, "the old Mark Hamill version," at which point I died a little inside.)

You did see some interesting variations.

Give this one points for originality at least. Although the costume doesn't suggest the Dark Knight Joker nearly as much as it does Klinger from M*A*S*H.

Rachel, who shot most of these pictures, loved taking shots of the costume folks and occasionally would wheedle them into doing a pose or acting out some little scene. This is easily our favorite of those.

Take THAT, evildoer!

Of all the Joker outfits, this was the one we liked best.

Recently-escaped-from-Arkham Joker was just a clever idea all the way around. Not only handcuffs, but on the back of the orange jumpsuit it says, "Property of Arkham Mental Hospital, Gotham City" or something like that, in big stenciled letters. Plus this guy's really got the face for it, he's got the Joker's high cheekbones. Julie was encouraging him to enter the contest and finally he borrowed one of our pens to fill out the form for the Masquerade entry.

Rachel actually was on a mission to shoot pictures of every costume at the con, which was quite an undertaking, as it turned out. I'm not going to reproduce all of them here, but I'll share a few.

Julie was admiring the handiwork that went into this one, though there was some confusion as to who she was supposed to be.

The Cthulhu fairy, maybe? I don't know what she leaves under your pillow, but I'll bet no man can look upon it and stay sane.

Everyone wanted a picture with Mojo Jojo.

He and Rachel hit it off really well, he was clowning with her on and off throughout the show.

I have no idea who these people are supposed to be, but the girl with the frog head gave me the most hilariously surreal moment of the show as far as costumes were concerned.

Sunday morning I saw her having an incredibly serious, intense conversation with someone, I think at the Wacom booth, about video technology -- still wearing the frog head. You don't see that kind of thing anywhere else.

Here's another one of Rachel's posed shots.

Rachel actually persuaded Wonder Woman to act out a little fight scene with her.

Wonder Woman was even a good enough sport to let Rogue win. Probably she was overpowered by Rachel's fearsome X-nerdity. ("Rogue would totally win! She takes people's powers!")

She even let Rachel put on her bracelets to show how Rogue would absorb all Wonder Woman's skills.

Star Wars was, of course, well represented.

When titans clash!

The 501st had a booth very close to our table, so there was a constant parade of Stormtroopers, Jedis, and Wookies passing by.

This led to perhaps our least favorite costume experience of the weekend. You can see her in the left-side background of this photo, the woman we came to refer to as "slutty slave Leia."

She is no doubt a very nice lady but we just weren't prepared for her to be going commando on the show floor. Finally our friend Rin had to go ask the 501st booth folks if they'd please get her to stop flashing our middle-school students (and their parents, many of whom had never been to a con before) every half hour as she passed by. Not that the kids minded -- the boys thought slutty Leia was the best costume EVER.

Generally, the costume folks we enjoyed the most were the younger kids.

This Serenity-themed family hit Julie and me right where we lived.

Look closer and you can see where Jewel Staite actually signed the Blue Sun shirt.

We were completely charmed by this young Stephanie Brown Robin.

Rocking the bo staff, even.

Here's our friend Rin being awed by a young Captain America.

That may be our favorite shot of the show.

We were happy that Rin could fly out and join us again this year, period. The kids all love her, and really this is the only time we get to see her since we quit going to San Diego.

We were especially happy that her physical therapy has paid off to the point where Rin can manage with just her cane instead of the wheelchair.

An added benefit of having Rin come out is that she makes my wife Julie take breaks and go have some fun. Truthfully Rin tries this with me too but honestly I was chained to the table for most of the show. Just too much to take care of. We had too many new kids and their parents this year, and if I'm not there to field questions and so on they get terribly nervous.

My students did do amazingly well. We gave away almost seven hundred of the ashcan convention comics and about five hundred of those went out signed.

Carlos and Jordan from the Madison class were both new to the convention this year but they were soon signing and posing for pictures like old pros.

Carlos, especially, took to doing a signing like a duck to water.

I'd been a little worried beforehand, since in class Carlos is quite a handful -- he's not troublesome, just bouncy and hyper -- and I'd been concerned about his willingness to focus and stay at the table. But I hadn't reckoned on how excited he would be to be taken seriously.

Normally Carlos is not an academic star. But here he was getting treated almost like a celebrity expert and the change that came over him was amazing to see.

Jordan did well too, and I have to add that although we didn't get any pictures of her Jordan's mother Michelle was a wonderful asset this year. A total doll and she took the boys off my hands a lot of the time and allowed me to concentrate on the other kids more than I'd have been able to otherwise.

Jada and Thomas, from Aki, were both new to the show but Lynn was there to help them along. She had come last year and was the old hand this time out, which was really endearing to watch. Here's Jada and Lynn at the table.

Lynn actually sold a few sketches.

I confess I didn't really understand the marketing campaign, but it did seem to be working for her.

And we'd often get folks who'd just stop to watch her work. Lynn's a factory, even more than some of my others.

Jada did well too. I love this shot because you see Jada signing, and then down the row there's Tony Harris, in almost the same posture, doing the same thing. The con organizers are great about spacing out the Artist's Alley assignments so that the small press isn't ghettoized. Famous people alternate with not-so-famous people and it's all very egalitarian.

We got a lot of the overflow traffic from Bruce Timm's line, just a few yards away. We especially got a lot of younger kids coming to the table, they were fascinated by the idea that there were kids their own age or close to it actually doing comics.

Thomas was doubtful about the whole enterprise at first, but he ended up having so much fun Saturday he came back for Sunday as well.

Connor and Jessica are both three-year veterans, so of course they did well.

This was their last show as part of our class so they were determined to make the most of it.

Anyway, it's about the only place where Jessica is comfortable wearing her tail.

Here they are with Anton, who was new to the whole thing.

Anton's mother was terribly nervous and must have phoned me five times in all to make sure he got there safely and was doing okay. It's no wonder the kid's a little high-strung. Still, Anton did all right, and once he found out artists would trade for our 'zines there was no stopping him, it was hard to keep him at the table at all. Here's Anton with Gus, also from the Madison class.

Gus was a delight and his mother acclimated rather well too. Here are the two of them flanked by Aja on one side and me on the other.

Gus' mother was new to the whole comics thing, as are our most of our parents that come along to chaperone. But she adjusted with remarkable aplomb and even ended up doing a little shopping -- she used to be very fond of Millie the Model, she confided, and ended up buying one from a back-issue dealer.

Shane was back this year too.

Shane, methodical as ever, had brought along his checklist of back issues he wanted. I don't know if he was actually able to find any, though we aimed him at Randy's Reader Comics, which is our preferred back issue vendor for Bronze Age books. He did get one of Dark Horse's Predator collections.

Shane brought his mother this year, and though she didn't dive into the experience as thoroughly as Gus's mother or Jordan's, she did have a good time, I think. She said she'd be back next year.

What was funny about having Shane's mother there was listening to Shane explain things to her almost the same way I'd said them myself to others. Seriously, it was almost word-for-word.

And of course they all wanted to shop. Lynn got a double armload of stuffed anime creatures and all the girls got hats.

The kids, as a rule, are more interested in things like the hats from Anime Raku and sketches and so on than they are the actual comics, though they did pick up a couple here and there. I know Thomas was checking out some of the old stuff.

Really, though, the comics all the kids were most fascinated by were back issues of our own student books. They are endlessly interested in what previous classes have done.

So I think the biggest hit for students this year was Rachel's Midnight.

Rachel had been quite struck by Amanda's doing a book all her own last year and was determined to at least equal the accomplishment by having her own 'zine to roll out this year. It turned out to be quite a hit. The students were all intensely interested.

Anyway. The point is that I rarely was able to get away from the table. This is okay -- I mean, I know going in that it's a working weekend for me, I don't get all frustrated over it. The only part that bothers me a little is that I missed seeing so many of the folks I'd have liked to say hello to. Fortunately, most of our friends know that they need to come find me if they want to say hi.

Alvin from Secret Fortress made a brief flyby visit on Sunday, stealing a minute or so away from his booth. Likewise Edward Pun. I missed seeing Gail Simone completely, though I think Rachel made it over there with a copy of Midnight for her, and Rin got to say hi.

Carla and Phenix came by on Sunday, and of course they had to get pictures with the Star Wars gang at the 501st.

Phenix was scared to be so close to Darth Vader, so the guy obligingly unmasked to show him it was just a costume. At which point Phenix expressed dismay that he wasn't all blue and scarred. The kid's only four but he is clearly One Of Us.

I did get to say a brief hello to Heidi from Comics Fairplay, though I was only able to wave at her husband Jim, and to Laura from Bloggity, on the same brief lap around the floor.

Laura was of course introducing everyone to Torvald the Troll. Laura tries to get a shot of Torvald with every one of my student crews each year, and she did pretty well. I'd told her that Rachel was wailing about never having been trolled, and Laura promptly got her twice. Once on Saturday with Aja...

....and again on Sunday with the whole morning crew.

She got Carlos and Sydney, too -- this is actually one of the few pictures we got of Sydney, who seemed a little overwhelmed by the show in general.

Yes, that's a Wonder Woman tiara Carlos is wearing. Everyone had them. We came home with two or three. The DC booth was passing them out and they were the convention accessory this year -- the star actually lights up and strobes.

Laura even got the convention poster the kids made, which was a nice touch because I forgot to get a good shot of it.

We make new ones every year, it's a class assignment.

Rachel, in turn, got this nice picture of Laura herself and her husband Eric.

The Troller is Trolled!

I did find time for a few things. I'd promised Julie we'd get a picture with Jewel Staite... Julie had wanted one with Adam Baldwin last year but he had to cancel, so this felt like I was finally able to keep an earlier promise.

As you can see, Jewel Staite is holding the Serenity one-sheet that Rin and our friend Bret had snagged for us at the San Diego convention on 2004, when Julie and I were on our honeymoon. We didn't get to tell Ms. Staite the honeymoon story in full, of course -- they hustle you right in and out of there -- but she sort of remembered Rin being in the San Diego footage on the Serenity DVD. Anyway, I got to keep a promise to my wife so I was happy, and it was nice to get Rin in the picture as well. Julie and I have both had more flattering shots taken, sure, but look how much fun Julie is having. That's the important part.

We also made some time to go see Wil Wheaton early Sunday morning before the crowds descended.

He was extraordinarily gracious and I especially appreciated his efforts to put Julie at ease, she was choking with shyness and embarrassment. He very kindly posed for pictures with us as well.

I'd made a printout of my electronic copy of Sunken Treasure for him to sign for us, hoping he wouldn't think I was just a cheapskate, but he was actually very pleased about it. "I love that you printed this out! Did you do it at a printshop?" I admitted it. We chatted for a couple of minutes about new open-source media delivery systems and the wave of the future and so on. I also told him that his portrayal of Floyd the predatory serial killer on Criminal Minds had scared the shit out of Julie, and he laughed and said, "Floyd scared the shit out of a lot of people."

I did a quick lap around Artist's Alley with Anton on Sunday and chatted a bit with Randy Emberlin, who's been a friend to the class for over a decade.

Randy's actually teaching a fair amount himself these days down in Portland. We had a quiet grouse about budget cuts and clueless administrators, something that is apparently universal.

And we always have to say hi to the Heffernan sisters from The Color M.

They've been doing their weekly webcomic since they were in middle school, I am pretty sure. Hard to believe Rosie's a freshman at Cornish College for the Arts now, but she tells me she really likes it.

I made it a point early Sunday to get a minute with Tony DeZuniga and Ernie Chan, illustrator idols of mine when I was in high school. I was a little starstruck, to be honest, but blessedly both of them were very pleasant. I'd brought one of my old Doc Savage black-and-whites for Mr. DeZuniga to sign, and an old Savage Sword for Mr. Chan. They seemed pleased at being remembered for those books. "This was a great format," DeZuniga said, a little wistfully. "I don't know why they don't still do comics like this." Preach it, brother. (Although technically I guess they still do if you count Shonen Jump.)

DeZuniga also really liked the idea that I actually taught comics, so I made it a point to drop one of our books by later when I was giving Anton the Artist's Alley tour.

I was taking Anton around because he was getting a little hyper at the table and creating tension, and also because he was talking about going out and getting "free stuff" from the artists. The truth of the matter is that the artists are always wanting to support the kids and they do shower them with giveaways at shows. But that didn't mean I was going to allow anyone to abuse that.

"You need to understand something," I told him. "This is a job. This is these people's livelihood, they are working. You don't go up to them and ask for a sketch like they're monkeys doing a trick. You offer money even if they don't have a sign up."

"But I don't have any money!" Anton wailed. This was really the crux of it. The other kids were shopping their brains out, but Anton hadn't brought cash and felt left out.

"You can offer something in trade, then. Take them some of our books." I was firm about this. "But there has to be some kind of transaction, a quid pro quo. The point is that it's not free. Don't go up to an artist and ask for 'free stuff.' It's insulting."

Anton wasn't getting it, so I decided to take him out myself and show him. It actually worked out well because I got to do a lap around the tables and say a few hellos, and Anton did much better than he would have on his own.

The QEW Publishing gang were great as always. Zeca Teixeira in particular was very nice to Anton and did him a great sketch of Anton himself dressed as Batman. I wish I'd gotten a picture but Julie was off with our camera, so you'll have to settle for Laura's troll picture of him.

Anton was also blown away by meeting Tom Doyle and the other Halo design guys. (You have to understand, these artists are gods to sixth-grade boys. They couldn't give a damn about Bendis or Brubaker, they want to meet the people behind Halo.) Doyle very kindly signed Anton a couple of promo cards after Anton presented him with a book. Lesson learned.

Mostly, though, my Artist's Alley visiting was confined to our neighbors. Fortunately, we had great neighbors.

I already mentioned Tony Harris -- I'm embarrassed to say I spent the show roughly thirty feet from him but never actually found a moment to say hi. Between Tony and us we had Erik Thompson and his dad.

We've been seeing them at ECCC for years and they're always great, and this year they were right next to us. Erik's dad, especially, was great with the kids, very grandfatherly.

On our other side we had Mike Bullock and Manny Trembley.

They were awesome neighbors, and deserved some kind of combat pay for putting up with us all weekend. Manny, especially, was elbow-to-elbow with Carlos all day Saturday so I felt like I should at least buy something. I remembered Greg Burgas saying nice things about After the Cape so I thought I'd give that one a try.

Manny very kindly signed it to me and Julie, too. I read it last night, and enjoyed it a great deal. It was completely not what I expected, but still very cool.

And out of nowhere on Sunday, Mike Bullock asked me, "You guys have a graphic novel section in your library?" I told him we did, whereupon he handed me a bunch of his Lions, Tigers and Bears collections.

I'm afraid I choked and stammered so badly he must have thought I was being graceless, but the truth is I was plain knocked speechless. It was an amazing gesture, we're talking about sixty or seventy dollars' worth of books and he just handed them to me. I let Rin have one to take back to her elementary school students back home, and the others went to the Aki Kurose school library. Who better be writing Mr. Bullock a REALLY NICE LETTER of thanks, or I'll be kicking some asses down there.

Across from us we had Stan Sakai.

A pleasure as always. I was flattered he remembered us, and even that his daughter Hannah had been in my San Diego Kid's Day class years ago.

Shane was also excited to meet Stan, because apparently at some point Stan had done a Godzilla riff in Usagi Yojimbo. So Shane was all over that.

Stan did him a nice sketch... on the back of the information flyer I'd made up for the kids' convention packets. Well, I guess it's better than on an old envelope.

Also across from us we had Cartoonists Northwest, who are always way awesome and someday, I swear, I really will get to one of the meetings, guys. Mostly their table was covered by Donna Barr and Roberta Gregory, both favorites of ours. I am ashamed to say that I never did get a minute to see Roberta, she was only there on Saturday and Saturday was crazy. I did at least get to thank Ms. Barr on Sunday for being so nice to my students.

Donna was another one who spontaneously gave the students fifty or sixty dollars' worth of free books, mostly Stinz. This was a gesture so wonderful that it again left me sputtering and speechless. Later I regrouped, though, and bought a Stinz collection for my own.

I'd been wanting it for a while and this way I knew the money went directly to Donna, always a plus.

The best Donna Barr moment came when I told Rachel to give her one of the Midnight books. About fifteen minutes later Donna came running up to Rachel and told her, "I just want you to know I think you really have something to say here, about women and power and abuse. You keep it up, you have a unique voice!" Rachel was practically levitating after that.

That wasn't my favorite student story of the weekend, though. That would be Marcus.

Marcus is one of my Aki students. He has a terrible, terrible speech impediment and it's often difficult to understand him, so he gets segregated in special ed classes most of the time. I'd been worried the show might overload him and I'd told his parents that Marcus had certainly more than earned his ticket to the show in class, but he didn't have to work at the table. However, his mom and dad thought it might be fun for him, he wanted to try, so I nervously agreed.

And he did great. One of the words Marcus can clearly articulate is "Yes," and blessedly this was the only answer he ever really had to give people.

"Can you find your page in here?"


"Would you sign it?"

"Yes." And he'd sign.

"That's great, are you having fun?"


Like that. His parents and I were right there, ready to step in at need, but we never had to. (This was why I was so grateful to Jordan's mother for taking Carlos and Jordan off my hands and not making me split my attention on Saturday, incidentally; I could focus on protecting Marcus from the crowds and being a buffer if I needed to.)

But the kid totally had it covered on his own. Marcus signed books and greeted people for four hours, and I'll bet none of those folks had any clue that he had any kind of handicap at all. It may have been one of the few times in his whole life where Marcus got to just be himself out in public without anyone making allowances or condescending to him. Even if his speech pattern seemed a little off to some of our visitors, they didn't think anything of it. Comics are full of people that are a little offbeat, after all.

Needless to say, Marcus had a great time.

His parents kept thanking us and Julie got all puddled up. I got a little misty myself.

That was my favorite part of the show this year. Everything else paled in comparison.


This has gone on way too long, I know. Believe it or not, I didn't even show you all of our pictures, let alone Rachel's. So instead I will link you to this awesome Convention slideshow Rachel posted on YouTube, including some hilarious video at the end of Lynn and Jada spontaneously bursting into song.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by our table, and especially those of you who made it a point to mention this column. Bless you all.

And everyone else, I hope you enjoyed this little photo album, and I'll see you back here next week. Maybe I'll even finally be rested up by then.

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